Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Love Letters with Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw -- The Bushnell

Note on seeing the show
:  MacGraw and O'Neal have a nice rapport on stage. MacGraw makes Melissa much more likable than usual -- maybe just because we like her so much. O'Neal brings more emotion to the closing scene than I ever have seen. It's real.

The one big drawback to this production directed by Gregory Mosher: the sound. It's s awful. Designed by Scott Lehrer for the Broadway revival (where there were no issues), the sound in The Bushnell left most audience members complaining after that they couldn;t hear (especially the soft-spoken MacGraw). I was in row H and had to strain to hear. Peter Kaczorowski's set design has no backdrop to it, so the voices echo and bounce on the cavernous Mortensen Hall stage. The volume isn't turned up much and sounds thin in the speakers. It is a disappointment as some lines of dialogue, particularly some that give insight into the characters, are simply lost.

Ali MacGraw and Ryan ONeal.  Photo: Austin Hargrave
By Lauren Yarger
The Bushnell has fired an arrow right through the heart of Valentine's day this year by scheduling the tour of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, which reunites "Love Story" stars Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw.

At a press event yesterday moderated by local arts journalist Frank Rizzo, and later in personal interviews, MacGraw, O'Neal and Gurney chatted about the play which opens tonight for a run through Sunday. Love Letters premiered in 1988 at Long Wharf Theatre and ended up being a finalist for the Pulitzer. It follows the 50-year relationship between Melissa (MacGraw) and Andrew (O'Neal) through letters written from shortly after the two meet as kids at a birthday party through adulthood. They share successes and failures, relationships, hardships, but most of all, a deep love and friendship.

It's not unlike the relationship between MacGraw and O'Neal, who burst upon American culture when they were paired as the ill-fated young lovers in the 1970 movie blockbuster "Love Story." They have touched base over the years, MacGraw said and have seen each other from time to time, and the affection they feel for each other hasn't waned.

"We are the generation this is written about," MacGraw said. "We really do have a past."

Love Letters is a dream come true to work with MacGraw again, said O'Neal, He finds it very moving every they perform the script (it is read, as the characters communicate through their letters) because when he hears his costar's voice, he hears "Jenny" from "Love Story" and is transported back. Only this time, his character does say he is sorry a lot, he joked.

The two make no effort to hide their obvious regard for each other. It's a casting match made in heaven.

Ryan O'Neal, Ali MacGraw, A.R. Gurney and Frank Rizzo.
Gurney said he couldn't have imagined when seeing the movie back in 1970 that these stars would one day be in a play of his. In fact, a lot of stars have sat in those seats. In its most recent Broadway revival, Mia Farrow, Carol Burnett, Candace Bergen, Alan Alda and Brian Dennehy were the pen pals. Interestingly, Gurney said that seeing different actors rarely gives him a new take on the characters. His reactions are more along the lines of whether someone has captured the character (he hadn't yet seen MacGraw and O'Neal in the roles.)

For these actors, they both feel they can relate to what they are reading.

"I have had some sad things happen in my life," O'Neal said. "I am able to use them in the story." O'Neal spoke about losing his longtime companion Farrah Fawcett and how the couple had once been approached to perform Love Letters in Las Vegas. It just didn't seem right for them at the time, he said. Then he heard his former "Peyton Place" costar Mia Farrow was doing the play on Broadway and he was a little miffed that she didn't ask for him.

She read with Brian Dennehy, I told him.

"Yeah, what's that?" he quipped.

But now playing opposite MacGraw, he realizes this is the right fit. He's even considering whether he can leave behind his four beloved rescue dogs in California to continue the tour to Australia.

MacGraw brings years of wisdom to the role. She's redefined her life and lives in New Mexico where, happily, she isn't under Hollywood's constant scrutiny.

Asked whether she's tired of being asked about her grey hair (men apparently never get this question -- just look at the Carrie Fisher issue when the new "Star Wars" came out), she laughed and then went on to speak eloquently and passionately about the need for older women to be included on stage and in films. Every stage of life has its gifts -- young and old -- she said, and we shouldn't be eliminating some from view.

When she was in her 20s, the things she thought were important have turned out to be "just a gnat's bite on my ass," she said.  Love isn't just about sexual attraction, she said. It's about forgiveness, confession, understanding differences, not trying to control and passion. Real life doesn't line up the way you plan, she said. There are ups and downs and the characters in this play experience that. They grow closer and grow apart, but what remains constant underneath it all is love.

Asked what his next project might be, O'Neal said he's not done with this one, saying he wishes he had tried out stage acting before. It's a dream come true. He feels like he should pay for the privilege of getting to act with MacGraw, it's such a pleasure, he said.

"And she's really good," he added with regard to her performance.

Aww. Now doesn't that sound like a fun way to spend Valentine's Day?

Love Letters runs through Feb. 14 at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are
Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $26 to $81: www.bushnell.org; 860-987-5900.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Lauren--what an honor for you to see the production and review it, but meeting such iconic actors must really be thrilling! I know it happens to you often, but these two actors are some of the most iconic for me because growing up in Central Asia did not allow us access to the latest movies coming out. My family just happened to be in the USA when "Love Story" came out, and it was one of the first movies I ever saw in an actual movie theater! Thankfully, there were just two main characters for me to remember:) So, it was pretty amazing when I saw your pictures of you with them, and read your piece. They both still look great, though I would say that Ali has stayed truly beautiful all these years. They truly are the generation that something like "Love Letters" was written for, now, because anyone about 10 years younger has probably written few letters to someone for many years. It just is not done any more.

Good job, Lauren!!

Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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